School location decision delayed until September

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: August 23, 2018 | 12:30 p.m. 

PRINCE GEORGE – Despite efforts in late July to bring the situation to a close this month, a decision on where a new elementary school would be built in the county has been delayed until September after the Prince George Board of Supervisors said “11th-hour” information provided by the school board needed to be reviewed.

That delay would come during the Prince George Board of Supervisors’ regular meeting last week, the only meeting scheduled for the month of August where Chairman Alan Carmichael and supervisors Donald Hunter and Marlene Waymack all voted in favor of tabling any decision on where the county will place a new elementary school to replace Walton Elementary School, the school determined to be in most need of a replacement by the school division’s core committee, until their next scheduled meeting on September 11.

The move came two weeks to the day after supervisors met at the Central Wellness Center for a work session and unanimously passed a motion allowing the school board to gather the pros and cons of the sites currently on the table – properties owned by the county on Middle Road or Courthouse Road near Beazley Elementary, and the current home of Walton Elementary School – and bring back facts and figures that can help supervisors make an informed decision after review by county staff in order to finally make a selection on a new school site during their meeting last week. In the lead-up to the eventual delay, Chairman Carmichael explained that “another option or plan” was delivered to the county and supervisors “around 2:30 p.m.” last Tuesday afternoon, hours before their scheduled meeting and, when asked later, Carmichael added, given the fact the information was provided so close to the time of the meeting, the data needed to be reviewed by both supervisors and the county’s staff to ensure the best selection is made, particularly when a cost saving is promised as part of the school board’s preferred alternative site.

In documents obtained by The Prince George Journal, a letter dated August 14 from Prince George Schools Superintendent Renee Williams explained, following supervisors’ request in July to gather information on sites other than the Yancey Tract, which county leaders unanimous denied as a possible school location earlier this summer, the school board during their meeting on August 13 “voted to request the Board of Supervisors to purchase six acres of land so that the Walton replacement school could be constructed at its current site” along Courthouse Road near U.S. Route 460.

That letter states the proposed land acquisition cost “would not exceed $475,000,” adding that the cost to extend water and sewer services at either the Middle Road or Courthouse Road property adds to the price tag for those two locations, stressing, “Even with the land acquisitions, the current Walton site may be more cost-effective.”

On the next page of Williams letter is a table that breaks down site development costs for the four properties, including the already denied Yancey Tract option, which the school division’s letter states that site “remains the school board’s preferred site for Walton Elementary School.” According to data provided by the school division’s retained architects Moseley, the cost to develop Walton as the site for the new school totals 5.9 million, the second-least-expensive option of the four.

The least expensive option, according to the school division’s data, would be the Middle Road, which is roughly $300,000 cheaper than the Walton site coming in at $5.6 million, as some savings would be found in not needed to buy additional land nor pay for the demolition on the site as is proposed with the Walton option, which would see the old Walton school torn down after the new one is finished.

The Courthouse Road site is the second-most expensive at $6.1 million, mainly due to an estimated $1.2 million it would cost to make water and sewer extensions to the site, while the Yancey Tract remains the most expensive option at $7.6 million, where roughly $2.6 million in water and sewer costs would be needed to make the site a viable option for the school.

While the Middle Road site wouldn’t need any money spent on a water extension, the school division’s data shows $650,000 would be needed for sewer extension-related costs. 

Where all four sites sync up is in the areas of estimated site construction costs, with all four sites expecting to have $4.2 million in construction costs and, and road improvements at a cost of $750,000 for each site.

Prince George School Board Chairman Robert Cox was on hand for last week’s meeting, along with several other board members and senior staff from the school division and he said he was “heartbroken” by the motion to table a decision until next month.

“The window is closing very rapidly on us to get this building constructed and ready to open for 2020,” he said in a later interview. “They know every month that we push it back, it tightens the window. It is not that we can’t do a middle-of-the-year opening, we could do that, but it is not the best thing to do.”

He also spoke to the comments made by Chairman Carmichael regarding the timeliness of the requested information, saying it came in at the “11th hour,” as county documents show it was provided to supervisors at 2:30 p.m. on the day after the meeting.

“Yes, it was late in the afternoon before they got it, but we wanted to make sure they had everything they had requested,” Cox remarked. “We went through everything; construction costs, demolition costs, acquisition costs, security, we had a whole litany of stuff covered so when it went to them, they were able to see everything.”

He added, referring to the motion to delay a decision due to county leaders wanting to review the numbers provided by the school division, “I am going to rely on what our architects have come up with and their price to do it. I am going to think that their prices are pretty spot on. I don’t know what the driver is with trying to force us to go somewhere that we don’t feel is where we should be at.”

The motion to bring the matter to the board for a decision this month came from Supervisor Floyd Brown during the July work session and he said he was disappointed this step in the process wasn’t able to be resolved last week.

“I was disappointed in our vote to delay it only because I try to be a person of my word. To me, my word is my bond,” he said. “I had asked for this to go ahead and make a decision and talk about options. I don’t know which option would’ve been finally decided on because we have five different members there but I wanted us to have that discussion, put it to bed and move on because we have a lot other important county matters and infrastructure-related things to move on to.” 

He admitted the timeliness of the school board’s information did play a role in the need for a delay in making a final decision on location.

“The move last night was only because we didn’t get that school information until about 2:30 in the afternoon so, I had seen the email with all the information on it and several of us had, but I guess it was the consensus of the folks that we had just gotten it, we really hadn’t had time to vet it, [and] there were still outstanding questions that weren’t in that communication,” Brown said. 

“I told the entire team, I don’t like kicking the can down the road, he continued. “I was hoping we would discuss it and have a lively discussion over it, again, not knowing how it was going to end up, I just wanted us to go and make that decision. We owe it to the citizens, we owe it to the schools, we owe it to the students to make a decision, go forward, and let’s get construction going on the school.”

For the time being, until supervisors make a decision, all the school board and school division can do is wait.

“We will have some more discussions about is there or aren’t there other options we can take,” Cox said referring to other alternative sites, “But right now, I don’t think we have anything else that is beneficial so we are pretty much in a holding pattern.”

The matter is expected to be discussed at length during the September 11 meeting.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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